Obviously, Canada’s biggest city celebrated the acquisition of their newest star, but more than 2,000 miles to the southwest, Arizona’s hockey community rallied around its best youth prospect becoming an instant star.
Matthew’s path from Phoenix travel teams to a 40-goal NHL rookie season has opened the door for fellow Arizona hockey prospects chasing their own NHL dreams, including a homegrown goalie who was invited to this week’s Coyotes player development camp.
Who is Jaxon Castor?
Jaxon Castor spent the first 18 years of his life in the Valley falling in love with hockey. While many of his friends spent their summers on baseball diamonds or basketball courts, Castor made the rink his home away from home, finding himself most comfortable standing at the end of the ice between the pipes.
“Growing up in a cul-de-sac, playing hockey with my brother and his friends, I was always the youngest one and they just put me in the net,” Castor told Five for Howling. “(Then) I got into ice hockey and just fell in love with the game.”
As Castor matured, so did his game. With a big frame and quick reflexes, the now 6-foot-3 net minder needed a bigger challenge than the average club team and tested himself playing AAA hockey with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes of the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League in his U16 and U18 years.
His play with the Jr. Coyotes caught the eyes of many junior hockey scouts around the continent. In the spring of 2015, the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL drafted the Desert Vista High School graduate in the 2nd round of the USHL Entry Draft, making him the first Arizonan on the draft board.
The USHL & Future in NCAA
In his first year in eastern Iowa, Castor played as the backup to Hunter Miska, who signed as an undrafted player with the Coyotes this offseason.
“With the Jr. Coyotes, you are just trying to make a junior league, trying to get tryouts,” Castor said. “My first year in Dubuque was a learning curve. I was a backup and didn’t play many games and then my second year I got the chance to play, and you just try to get better every day.”
With Miska off to the University of Minnesota-Duluth last season, Castor took the reigns as the Saints starting goalie, playing 50 games with a 2.35 GAA to lead Dubuque to the second round of the USHL playoffs. His stellar season bumped his draft stock as well: NHL Central Scouting ranked him as the 23rd best North American goalie coming into last week’s draft.
But like most Arizona-raised players, Castor was passed on, placing him down an undrafted path endured by many starters in the NHL today, including this year’s Heart Trophy finalist Sergei Bobrovsky.
“It’s not like a make or break thing,” Castor noted. “It would be cool to get drafted but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. It’s almost better if you don’t, you can pick 30 other teams to go to camp with.”
In the midst of his rise up the youth and junior hockey ranks, Castor also drew the attention of Arizona State University's new NCAA Division 1 hockey program, where he is currently committed to play when his USHL career ends.
While Matthew’s high profile rookie year made the hockey world pay attention to the budding talent hotbed in the desert, Castor is the true embodiment of the challenges kids from the “non-traditional” market face in their pursuit of pro hockey.
“I take a lot of pride in being from here,” he said. “There’s not many of us so, just trying to make it (like Matthews) and follow in his footsteps.”
For now, though, Castor will continue to be a part of a promising group of Arizonans trying to penetrate the hockey world and prove that their home is worthy of everything the sport has to offer.